We Just Can’t Stop for Winter
Bentonville, Arkansas has become a cycling Mecca. With fast-paced growth comes lots of girls hungry to ride and learn even in the winter.
After our inaugural spring Little Bellas program ended in June of 2017, two of our older girls express their desire to continue riding, but their parents weren’t into it and wouldn’t let the two of them go riding on their own. We knew these two young ladies weren’t the only two in Bentonville who were raring to ride but didn’t have an outlet, so I started researching what the possibilities might be.
Fast-forward to November of the same year, and we have 12 girls, ages 12-15, bundled up and a little nervous, ready to ride for the first time together. A couple showed up without gloves, thin socks, or a giant puffy coat to wear out on the trail.
Throughout the program, the experience and fitness was all over the place. The 15 year-olds were fast and leaving the rest of the group behind. I quickly realized that the challenge these ladies would be facing was honing leadership skills and riding at a pace that is good for everyone (even if it meant a bit of personal sacrifice). The girls took on the responsibility with grace, seriousness, and real interest, which encouraged me to know that they were already leaders, but just needed the opportunity to show it.
The younger girls, or the girls who hadn’t been able to ride all summer and fall were struggling to ride up hills (which we have many of), making me nervous that they would be discouraged and not want to come back. Instead, when I drifted back to see how everybody was doing, they were all excitedly chatting another mentor, Katherine, about some show that I had never seen because I’m not 13. (Maybe Vampire Diaries? Is that a thing?) They didn’t even notice or care that they were in the back. They were out to have a good time, and they were having it.
Weather was not on our side for this program. Arkansas weather can be nuts (which I feel like everyone says about the place that they live, but hear me out). Most of us assumed that the winter would be mild like the last few, but oh dear readers, we were wrong. Not only was it the coldest in years, it was also wet. For the first couple of bad Sundays, I canceled, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to ride. I got tired of that, feeling like I was going to cancel more than I wouldn’t. So instead, we started coming up with alternatives. Once, we scheduled a paved trail ride due to rain, which resulted in soaked Little Bellas and mentors, frozen fingers, and refuge in a cave with hot chocolate. Another day we met at a local coffee shop and talked and made bracelets out of bike chains, thanks to another mentor, Sarah. We rode in the snow once, making everyone feel so tough, because we were the only people out on the trail. We realized that you didn’t have to get these gals on bikes every single time. They just love talking, laughing, telling stories, talking about Stranger Things, and being together.
The Bentonville Winter program was a learning curve for all of us, but by the end of our 12 weeks, we had established real relationships with each other, had ridden in colder temperatures than most of the girls ever had, rolled with the punches together, and rubbed each others’ fingers when we couldn’t feel them anymore. This is not something that we as mentors could have created ourselves. All we could do was set a tone and encourage. The rest of what happened at this program, and arguably what happens at the rest of the Little Bellas programs, is all because the girls themselves are confident in who they are, and are realizing that alongside other girls. These girls left having done hard things and knowing new people, and we can’t wait until next year.
by Kelsey Miller
Kelsey "discovered" mountain biking accidentally in the 7th grade with a friend when a detour on a ride took them on a newly made trail. She never looked back. Working at BikeNWA, she helps to get more people on bikes and to make Northwest Arkansas as bike friendly as possible. Road, mountain, or cross, if you pedal it and it has two wheels, Kelsey wants in. Her amazing dedication to cycling and a general joy for life always shows through whether she's making up TV shows for Little Bellas campers to "watch", hanging out with her dog, Nancy Drew, jumping in a mountain bike race, or quoting Meryl Streep movies.